Manufacturing in Indiana: No Stopgap, but Training Needed

Continuing to read up on Indiana before NAM’s John Engler speaks Thursday in Fort Wayne to the Economic Club of Indiana…

Conexus Indiana is a central Indiana-based initiative to promote advanced manufacturing and logistics, with a solid emphasis on workforce development. Its website offers good information and commentary on manufacturing, including this response to a recent op-ed in The Indianapolis Star by Timothy Slaper of Indiana University, “Focus on getting high-paid jobs.” Conexus comments, “Manufacturing growth is key to closing Indiana’s income gap“:

Dr. Slaper compares the attraction of new manufacturing plants to “a medical trauma center” – a stopgap strategy. But look no further than the EnerDel operations in Indianapolis as well as Hamilton and (soon) Hancock Counties. These state-of-the-art facilities are employing high-paid engineers working on advanced batteries for electric vehicles, a market that’s expected to grow three-fold over the next five to seven years. No stopgap there.

There’s also medical manufacturing. An Indiana University study released last year shows that life sciences firms increased their share of the state’s manufacturing output from 11% in 1997 to 20% in 2007, picking up the slack for a faltering domestic auto industry. These jobs generally pay even better than the average manufacturing position, far above the median wage.

The right kind of manufacturing operations do contribute handsomely to Indiana’s earnings, paying long-term economic dividends.

However, many manufacturing positions don’t require a four-year degree, but rather an associates or certificate training. Half of all U.S. jobs today fall into this ‘middle skill’ category. Over the next five years, one of every two new jobs will continue to be in this area. While jobs that demand advanced post-graduate degrees certainly command the highest incomes, there simply aren’t enough of these positions to close the state’s income gap alone. We also need to “go hunting where the ducks are,” and go after good-paying, middle-skill manufacturing jobs – opportunities that happen to fit into Indiana’s economic wheelhouse.

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